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Jaws of Justice

D: Spencer Gordon Bennet / 58m

Cast: Kazan the Wonder Dog, Jack Perrin, Robert Walker, Ruth Sullivan, Gene Toler, Lafe McKee, Lightnin’ Teddy

While the animal hero genre has taken a bit of a satirical bashing in recent years – “What’s that, Champion/Skippy/Lassie?  Little Timmy’s fallen down the well/mineshaft/stairs?” – this movie from a simpler, bygone era has a certain charm about it that makes it more enjoyable than you might expect (or believe).

The plot is straightforward enough: when old timer ‘Seeker’ Dean reveals he’s found the location of a “lost lode” that will make his fellow townspeople rich, his only proviso is that he won’t tell anyone where it is until he’s spoken to the Canadian government about it (it’s never made clear why he needs to do this).  However, he does tell semi-adopted youngster ‘Kickabout’ (Toler) where the lode is and swears him to secrecy (‘Kickabout’ is mute so this isn’t difficult for him).  Dean’s daughter, Judy (Sullivan) is being romanced by “writer” Boone Jackson (Walker); Jackson offers to drive Dean to his meeting with the government but on the way Dean discovers Jackson’s in the employ of some land-grabbers who want the lode for themselves.  A fight ensues and Dean is killed.  Questions follow.  Will Dean’s body be discovered, or will he still be regarded as missing, even though a year passes?  Will the location of the lode be revealed?  Will Jackson marry Judy, even though she’s really attracted to Mountie Sergeant Kinkaid (Perrin, billed as Richard Terry)?  Will ‘Kickabout’ ever stop trying to matchmake between Judy and Kinkaid?  And will Kazan do much more than jump in and out of – and through – windows during the course of the movie?

Jaws of Justice - scene

For such a short running time, Jaws of Justice packs a lot in, and while some of it is painful filler – shots of Kazan waiting for the next instruction from his off-screen handler, Kinkaid smiling gormlessly at Judy in apparent adoration over and over again – the plot ticks over with surprising efficiency, albeit in a clumsy, melodramatic way.  The fight between Dean and Jackson shows McKee to be a bit sprightly for his age, Perrin looks like he’s not been told this is a talkie, Sullivan sports one of the worst fringes this side of Lloyd from Dumb & Dumber (1994), and the two main interiors are the same set but with or without a huge fireplace.  Nevertheless, it’s still a fun piece, not least because of the below-par acting, or the stilted dialogue, but because like pretty much all b-movies from the period, they were cheaply made and the casts and crews were simply doing their best with the material(s) at hand.

But what about Kazan the Wonder Dog?  How does he fare in his first starring role (he made two more movies before retiring)?  Well, he’s no Rin Tin Tin, but he does have a certain screen presence, and he is prepared to launch himself onto the back of poor old Walker on a couple of occasions, as well as being flung through the air into a wall (I’m not sure if that was done by a stunt double or a dummy; probably a dummy).  There’s also the fantastic moment when he jumps through a window and the sound of breaking glass is added a second or so afterwards.  He gets shot too, which allows him to show off his crawling-on-his-belly-then-rolling-over routine.  It’s cute, and while it wouldn’t have won him an animal Oscar, the whimpering he does as well sells it convincingly.

Gentle mockery aside, Jaws of Justice is a passable way to spend an hour, and its stock characters and plot contrivances are predictable (and even banal), but it’s entertaining in the way that only this type of movie can be.  Bennet’s direction is serviceable, the outdoor locations are picturesque, and to cap it all, there’s an exciting climax that shows Kazan has asbestos paws.

Rating: 5/10 – enter into the spirit of things and Jaws of Justice will only disappoint when it ends too soon; still, it’s one for aficionados of this sort of thing, and anyone who believes animals are smarter than humans.